Friday, October 28, 2011

The Right to be Born

What is called “the right to life” in anti-abortion circles is actually the claimed right of a non-viable foetus to be born. (Both sides agree on the right of a viable foetus.) The doctrine is espoused by some religious denominations as an article of faith rather than of logic or science. Morality comes into the equation, but only as the stepchild of a belief in Original Sin and a supernatural creator-god. The same faith sometimes opposes artificial (pro-active) methods of contraception, which leaves the moral position up in the air. If a creator-god forbids birth-control pills, spermicidal pills and morning-after pills, in what order of priority does he or it disapprove of them?

When does life begin? If the answer were “at conception”, why on earth should it be sinful to prevent conception? And, why delay it until after an approved marriage ceremony in an approved church? (Approved by the agents of the creator-god of the moment, that is.) Well, it’s because the agents themselves say so, they being uniquely qualified to know the mind of the god they inherited. Any debate quickly descends into a battle based on false premises. I myself claim to believe in Loki the old Norse god of luck and caprice. You can probably guess what his opinion is on this whole matter.

If life does begin at conception, there are practical problems that need to be addressed, and not just the problem of when to have one’s birthday parties. Every conception would require formal registration, lest a life be lost and not accounted for. Since conception is not immediately evident, every act of sexual congress would need to be reported. Of course that is something the average boy and girl are reluctant to tell their mothers, never mind some faceless bureaucrats in a Ministry (or Church) for the Preservation of God’s Children. Anyway, where would registration leave sperm-banks and their clients?

In the movie Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon faced down the argument that a sperm-donor might legally be entitled to parental rights over a baby conceived using his sperm. Logically, she said, it would follow that “all masturbatory emissions, where his sperm was clearly not seeking an egg, could be termed reckless abandonment”. That’s one for the church fathers to ponder!

It’s a nice paradox, that liberals (in the British sense of the word) tend to be pro-abortion and anti-war, whereas conservatives generally oppose abortion while being pro-war. A child once born must be protected from hardship and poverty in the soft liberal world, but left to take his chances in a laisser-faire conservative society. It’s relatively rare to find a consistent opinion on the sanctity of life, however defined. Perhaps all anti-war pacifists ought to be anti-abortion, and all supporters of wars ought to be pro-abortion. The latter set doesn’t usually mind bombing a baby the minute it’s born; the former would ban the bombing while frustrating the birth. Go figure.

The famous satirical book 1066 and All That reported the English Civil War as being a struggle between the Cavaliers (“Wrong but Romantic”) and the Roundheads (“Right but Repulsive”). The descriptions could easily be applied to the parties in the debate on the right to be born. But which is which? Hmmm. My old Norse god of caprice has just told me, “It all depends...”